Have you heard that you should soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains and legumes? Have you wondered why? Is it to help improve their digestibility? To help increase their nutrition? Perhaps, it’s to reduce phytic acid?
Phytic acid is naturally present in most nuts, seeds, grains and legumes; it is the plant’s storage form of the mineral phosphorus and is used as energy when the plant starts to grow. The highest levels of phytic acid are found in rice bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and walnuts.
Phytic acid and minerals
Perhaps you have heard of phytic acid being referred to as an “anti-nutrient?” This is because phytic acid binds to the minerals iron, zinc, and calcium preventing them from being fully absorbed when eaten.
FUN FACT: Phytic acid’s effects only apply to mineral-containing foods in the current meal. Once digested, there is no mineral reduction on any future meals and there is no impact to the minerals your body has already absorbed.
Phytic acid’s health benefits
Phytic acid isn’t all bad – in fact it has some health benefits too. It can act as an antioxidant and it can also help reduce your risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and even some cancers.
Because it loves minerals (which are metals), phytic acid in your gut can also bind to any heavy metals (the metals we don’t want too much of) that may have hitched a ride with your food.
How to reduce phytic acid
As you now know, phytic acid shouldn’t be a huge concern, unless your main foods at most meals are nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Because many of these are nutritious foods, you probably don’t want to cut all of them completely out of your diet.
Considering both the good and bad properties of phytic acid, you may still want to reduce how much you consume. Perhaps you would like to increase your mineral intake. If so, here are two popular methods to naturally reduce phytic acid:
- Soaking – Place nuts, seeds, grains or legumes in a bowl, cover with water and leave overnight. Then drain the water and rinse before eating or preparing.
- Sprouting – After soaking, draining, and rinsing, place damp nuts, seeds, grains or legumes into a container that’s exposed to the air (like a mason jar with a mesh lid). Every 8 hours or so, re-rinse them and drain the water. Continue doing this for a few days until you see sprouts peeking out.
Why do soaking and sprouting help reduce phytic acid in certain foods? It’s because being wet is a “sign” to leave their dormant (dry) state and start a new life. Enzymes activated during soaking and sprouting deactivate phytic acid to use its energy and stored minerals for the plant as it begins to grow.
Phytic acid has a bad rap as a mineral reducer. It’s found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Yes, it most definitely prevents absorption of critical minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, if they’re in your gut at the same time. Phytic acid in food can become a health concern if you are deficient in these minerals, or if your diet is largely based on nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, but if you eat a varied diet, then phytic acid shouldn’t be as much of a concern. In fact, phytic acid does have some health benefits.
If you want to reduce it in your food, you can soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.
Recipe (soaked almonds): Almond Vanilla Latte Smoothie (Serves 1)
- ¼ cup almonds, soaked overnight & rinsed
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ½ cup strong coffee, cold (or chai tea if you prefer)
- ½ banana, frozen
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- optional: tbsp of natural peanut butter
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until almonds are smooth. Add ice, if desired. Serve & enjoy!
Tip: By using soaked almonds, they tend to blend up smoother than hard and crunchy dry almonds do.